DUNEDIN, Fla. – Toronto Blue Jays scouts thought they had a pretty good read on Sean Reid-Foley’s ability and makeup when the team selected the right-hander out of Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla., in the second round of the 2014 draft, 49th overall. You’d want to think you have a good idea of what you’re buying when you hand out a signing bonus of over $1.1 million: A thick-set 6-foot-3 power pitcher with a plus slider and plus change in his toolbox.
Management in the Jays’ minor-league affiliates also think they’ve built up a book on the hard-throwing 20-year-old over his two seasons in the system—a summer in rookie ball in his draft year and then a season divided between advanced-A Dunedin and high-A in Lansing. That’s a pretty swift advance through the system but those who work in the affiliates have seen him consistently hit 96 m.p.h. with his fastball and rack up a strikeout per inning, better in more dominating starts.
Reid-Foley says the Jays are still getting a line on him but one guy has him figured out.
“Nobody knows me as well as my brother,” Reid-Foley says. “We moved in together and worked out together this off-season. We hung out together and played golf. It was sort of more like you’d expect best friends to be rather than brothers. I mean, we spent maybe 16 or 18 hours a day together sometimes.”
David Reid-Foley disputes the numbers. “I’d say it was more like 12 hours usually,” the 25-year-old older brother says. “But, yeah I do know what he’s about."
And the big brother’s opinion is not just a fraternal one but a professional one: David is now going into his third year in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. He had divided time between pitching and catching in high school and college but pitched full-time last year, hoping to land in double-A this spring. Which puts the two Reid-Foleys at just about the same level in their respective chains.
It’s not that David has followed Sean’s career every step along the way. There is a very significant gap in his scouting of his little brother.
“I saw Sean pitch in eighth grade but then not until his senior year in high school,” David said. “Those four years I was away at junior college and then Mercer [University in Georgia] and played a summer of rookie league ball [in the Dodgers organization]. It was down in Jupiter that I had a chance to see him after all that time. I couldn’t believe the way he had changed. I had seen what pitching in rookie league looked like—I caught it and hit it. And I thought that Sean compared pretty favourably to that and he was just a high-schooler. I knew then he was getting drafted."
It wasn’t that David caught his brother on a good day. Sean’s stats at Sandalwood in his senior season are hard to process: He gave up just 17 hits (14 singles and three doubles) all season and rang up 120 strikeouts in 65 innings, batters hitting .074 against him. When David saw Sean he was already projected as a first-rounder two years ago—both Baseball America and MLB.com had him going to the Dodgers at No. 22. And he saw what the buzz was about.
Since then David has had plenty of chances to see Sean on the mound when they’re working out. Last year, he saw Sean in high-A when the Dodgers’ Great Lakes affiliate took on Lansing. The personal scouting report on his younger brother focused on attitude.
“It's a bulldog mentality,” David said. “He gets on the mound and his attitude is, ‘OK, get in the batter’s box but you have no chance.’ He might seem laid back when you meet him but on the mound he’s completely driven. And in the weight room he’s the same way too. He has a great work ethic."
Statistically and aesthetically the only blot on Sean's record are his numbers on walks, but the minors are where those things are supposed to work themselves out. It might be a matter of building up physical stamina. It might be a matter of game management. Or it might be a matter of a mechanical tweaking.
David has his own take on the changes that will be necessary for his brother to fulfill his potential and for the pitcher and organization to live happily ever after.
“I think that Sean takes things too hard and demands or expects too much of himself,” David says. "You’re not going to have your best stuff all the time. And the other guys can play. If there’s a well-hit ball, he thinks it was his mistake, not that the batter put a good swing on it. It’s not that he doesn’t accept failure well. He doesn’t, but that’s not the issue. It’s that he thinks everything that doesn’t go well is his failure. He’s too tough on himself but he’s young and he’s going to figure it out. I was the same way but it’s something you get past."
Sean thinks that’s a pretty good read of his makeup but only half the story. “Last year I did have trouble with handling the failures but there was the flip side too,” he says. “When I was having success in a game, going three or four or five innings and everything was working out, I’d get a little laid back and too comfortable. I think if I’m going to grow, the coaches are not going to have to talk to me to get me to stay on top of things every game. They’re going to be able to say in the spring, ‘This is the pitch you’re working on this season.’ And I’m going to look after things on my own. But that’s what becoming a pro is about."
Sean’s stats last year were nothing like his microscopic numbers from high school—between the two levels he went 4-10 and allowed 67 walks in 96 innings. The promise is in both his strikeout totals (125) and the fact that he doesn’t turn 21 until July. For those reasons foremost his name lands in all the lists of the Jays’ top minor-league prospects—it moved considerably higher last July when a bunch of the Jays’ top arms were dealt for the pennant run. According to MLB.com he’s the third most promising talent in the system, behind pitcher Jonathan Harris, the Jays’ first-rounder last June, and outfielder Anthony Alford.
Sean says that he doesn’t pay heed to the experts’ rankings and won’t comment on them. The best qualified expert on the subject of Sean Reid-Foley will though.
“He has everything that you need to be a major leaguer, no doubt,” his brother says.